This past weekend’s “Kinetic Crossings” at Baltimore Theater Project was a visual feast, featuring performances by Baltimore-based Deep Vision Dance Company and Japanese choreographer and performer, Saiko Kino. Kino’s performance was the result of years of work by the Asian Arts and Culture Center at Towson University.
‘Shizuka‘ took my breath away… I might have held it for the entire performance.
Baltimore Theater Project, with its convex back wall, was the perfect venue for Deep Vision Artistic Director Nicole Martinell’s “In Faith.” The curve pulls you into the space, and the domed ceiling made the stage feel like a piece of hallowed architecture. “In Faith” depicts a shared spiritual journey through doubt, and anxiety, taken by two friends, a Christian woman—danced by Martinell, and a Muslim man— danced by Jamahl Rahmaan. Martinell had a corps of five women with her who seemed to double both as other people of faith with their own interiorities and insecurities, and as the multiplicity of voices and agitations that existed within Martinell. Sometimes they defined an environment on the stage, moving as individuals, before seamlessly flowing to serve as a visual sustain for Martinell. The corps dancers, Lacee Buckholz, Sade Morgan, Chelsea Patten, Natalia Smith, and Baylee Wong, made the partnering work with Martinell look effortless, tossing and manipulating her around the stage without anything feeling sharp or forced.
In contrast, Rahmaan was alone on the stage which gave his two solos, “Nafs (ego)” and “Hidayat (guidance),” a different quality of intimacy. In the first solo, Rahmaan spent most of his time on a prayer mat with his forehead down, his arms flailing, and his hands shaking behind his back or doing a smooth and thematic swimming motion across the surface of the stage. When he reappeared in “Hidayat (guidance),” he was thrown face first against the sweeping back wall of the stage, framed in a square of shadow by red light. Some of the movement was the same, but the reorientation from the floor to the back wall gave the sensation that now he was beating against the mat in his mind. We were witnessing the same sense of conflict we had seen in “Nafs (ego)” only this time, from the inside. As Rahmaan finally approached the prayer rug (still downstage left where it had been in the previous solo) with a series of slow, but rhythmic and determinedly grounded flamenco steps, and then knelt down to begin a lyrical recitation, the audience breathed a palpable sigh of relief. When Martinell and her corps rejoined Rahmaan for the finale “Concluding Moment” the physical vibrations and agitations that defined choreography transformed from anxiety to ecstasy.
“Shizuka” choreographed and performed by Kino, made up the second half of the evening and was a completely different work, both visually and conceptually, though both works seemed to focus on a deep sense of introspection. “Shizuka” revived the tale of Shizuka Gozen, a 12th century mixed-gender dancer known for her extraordinary psychic powers and political influence. Kino provided a detailed program note on the history of shirabyoshi—both female butoh dancers who disguised themselves as men, as well as the repertory performed by them—which I, as someone with fairly limited knowledge of Japanese dance history, greatly appreciated.
“Shizuka” took my breath away. Kino remained onstage for the entire performance, nearly an hour. Her slow, mournful, but inquisitive, walk into the theater with the house lights still up made the performance appear to begin before it started. The audience was still sitting down as she slowly took off her pink Burberry coat and laid it on the floor before lying down on the stage facing away from the audience. For the next approximately 20 minutes, she stayed on the floor in a totally enthralling series of epochally slow butoh contortions that made it appear as if her arms belonged to someone else. In American contemporary dance, virtuosity is increasingly defined by speed and a particular flavor of uptempo athleticism. The brutal slowness and focus displayed by Kino was a totally antithetical form of virtuosity, which I found aesthetically refreshing and emotionally captivating. Even when, in the later sections, the movement began to approach what might be more familiar dance tempos and vocabulary for a western audience, there was still a granularity to Kino’s concentration and clarity of movement which made time seem to take longer. I might have held my breath for the entire performance. Kino’s absolutely precise use of props was also exemplary, from the small objects and musical instruments that appeared in the middle sections, to the glistening robe which she donned at the end. The robe had a train that unspooled out of the wings seemingly without end as Kino slowly turned around and around, engulfing herself from ankles to upraised arms. Based on the Legend of Dojyoji Temple, the gown represented the transformation of a woman—gone mad after separating from her lover—into a white serpent. The robe also bookended the work, completing the transformation that began when she took off her pink coat at the top of the performance.
The lighting designers for both works, Heather Mork and Asako Miura respectively, deserve attention. Mork’s use of red light to highlight Rahmaan against the plastered back wall in “In Faith” sent chills up my spine. Miura used an amount of light that perfectly paralleled the amount of movement Kino had on stage—sometimes almost none. Kino’s slow writhing appeared as if melting out of the void. With a single light shining overhead at a fraction of its possible brightness, the stage felt like an infinite emptiness which Kino was simultaneously swallowed into, and creating for herself.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with a brief intermission.
‘”Kinetic Crossings” ran March 10-11, 2023 at Baltimore Theater Project, 45 W. Preston Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For more information and tickets about upcoming events at Baltimore Theatre Project, go online. For more information about Deep Vision Dance Company, click here. For more information about Saiko Kino, click here. Tickets may be purchased and reservations claimed at the Box Office (410-752-8558) starting one hour before show time. COVID Policy: All guests must wear masks while inside Theatre Project.